For nearly three weeks, India’s leading fact-checker and journalist Mohammad Zubair, who headlined the ruling party’s spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s controversial remarks against Prophet Muhammad, has spent most of his time locked up between jails and courts.
Since his arrest, he has been escorted by police in and out of a courtroom in Delhi and then, as new charges are levelled against him, taken to a remote town on the Indo-Nepal border for investigation.
Delhi Police arrested him on 27 June 2018 over a tweet for “insulting Hindu religious beliefs”. Later, they levelled other charges against him, including criminal conspiracy, destruction of evidence and receiving foreign funds.
A few days later, police took him into custody in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. He accused them of using “offensive words of hate speech” to describe three Hindu religious leaders who indulged in hate speech in the videos, incited violence against Muslims or threatened to rape Muslim women. Were. On July 8, the Supreme Court granted him temporary bail for five days in the case after hearing him face death threats. The top court extended his bail on July 12 and said the final hearing on the police complaint against him would be on September 7.
On July 15, a Delhi court also granted him bail in the original case, for which the Delhi Police arrested him. But the 39-year-old will remain in custody until he gets bail in half a dozen cases that police in Uttar Pradesh have brought against him since his arrest.
A telecom engineer based in the southern city of Bangalore, Mr Zubair co-founded Alt News in 2017 with former software engineer Prateek Sinha to tackle fake news.
Over the past five years, the website has been instrumental in debunking claims that spread misinformation about religion, caste and unscientific myths.
With over 3,000 articles garnered over 60 million views, Alt News has been the government’s target since its inception in 2017, mainly because of fake videos and messages targeting India’s minority Muslim community. Have to focus your attention on.
An expert in digital forensics, Mr Zubair is known for researching the origins of anonymous images and videos, which are often misrepresented by social media and even mainstream media.
It’s incredible job hours spent sifting through photos and videos of hate, violence, lies and propaganda. Recently, he also started overseeing “Unhate” – a new Alt News project that documents hate speech.
Described as “a very determined and dedicated man” by those who know him, Mr Zubair is a prolific tweeter with more than half a million followers. It is routinely trolled and abused by accounts claiming to be Hindu nationalists.
Days before his arrest, he posted e-mails on Twitter saying some of his tweets criticising Islamophobic comments by Hindu leaders were being “withheld” – which means they can’t be seen in India – at request from the law enforcement authorities.
Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonsalves, who represented Mr Zubair in the top court on Friday, said there was no case against the fact-checker and “he is a thorn in the side of the government because he is the only one who takes up hate”. Crime”.
Police say they are also investigating fake foreign remittances in his bank account, a charge they have denied.
Opposition leaders, journalists and activists have criticized Mr Zubair’s arrest, saying he is constantly being picked up by religious fanatics and hate-mongers. The timing of her arrest, critics pointed out, was tied to her widely shared tweet, which exposed Ms Sharma’s comments during a televised debate in late May.
Critics say Mr Zubair’s is the latest in the long list of arrests of India’s best-known activists, intellectuals and journalists and point to India’s plummeting ranking in the World Press Freedom Index. A recent report said “pressure had grown on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line” and “journalists that don’t do so are arrested and jailed”.
“Mr Zubair should be awarded a medal for his service to the nation. Instead, he’s been jailed,” says Mr Gonsalves. “His determinations show that just one person can cause so much consternation to the hatemongers, imagine if there were ten like him there? The hatemongers then would have nowhere to run.”